I have always believed in the fantastical. As a kid growing up in Queens, New York, I was bored with the mundane world. I wanted a gateway to take me to another land with supernatural creatures and epic quests or a journey to the stars. This was the beginning of my fascination with portal fantasy. (I finally got my wish when I created a faerie portal in Cunningham Park in my novel Wayward Witch.) I’ve spent my entire career building the stories and worlds that I wanted to inhabit, never forgetting that I am a Latina writing SFF.
When I was in college, the feedback I tended to get from critique partners and teachers was that fantasy was cool, but why wasn’t I writing “my real story.” When I had six books under my belt, a librarian once told me at a conference that if I wrote “my story” in a “contemporary” setting that I’d be a shoe-in for a big Latino kidlit award. I know in publishing we’re always looking for THE STORY. What is my story, then? And why couldn’t I tell “my story” in science fiction and fantasy? Where do our stories fit in thrillers, noir, paranormal, and everything that might fall under the umbrella of speculative fiction?
All of this led to Reclaim the Stars, a young adult anthology of SFF stories through the lens of the Latin American diaspora. I wanted to celebrate these voices, these authors, and their perspectives. Here are some books I think belong on any genre lover’s bookshelves, no matter the age group.
The Shadowshaper Cypher by Daniel José Older (2015)
As one of the first Latinx YA SFF novels, Shadowshaper should be required reading in this genre. Sierra Santiago discovers shadowshaping–a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. When shadowshapers drop one by one all around Brooklyn, Sierra and her allies have to unravel her past to track down the killer. Reading this book made me feel less alone as a Latina writing SFF, the way I felt in the early aughts. Here is a brave young girl fighting monsters and the patriarchy at the same time. Just go check out all of Daniel José Older’s work which spans middle grade, adult, YA, and Star Wars.
Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore (2017)
Anna-Marie McLemore has an expansive list of truly beautiful, fairytale-esque magical realism. I have loved all of their books but Wild Beauty is one of my favorites. The Nomeolvides women have a family curse–if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. Until one day, a boy with no memory of his past appears and changes Estrella Nomeolvides’s world. McLemore is a study in magical realism, and I believe the reigning royal of the genre. Their worlds feel personal, tender, and always explore the intersection of gender and cultural identity. I promise, pick any McLemore book and it’ll be exquisite.
Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz (2020)
Imagine a world cup… but with dragons. I feel like everything is better with dragons and Amparo Ortiz’s debut is no exception. Blazewrath Games follows Lana Torres, a girl who has only ever wanted to compete in the Blazewrath World Cup. But just when she’s given the chance to join the dragonriding team of Puerto Rico, the World Cup becomes the stage for an international crisis, an even bigger incident has to be unraveled. This was a fun read, and an excellent way to escape the real world in exchange for the global world of dragons. It’s like an aged up, modern How to Train Your Dragon. Another bonus is the duology is complete with Dragonblood Ring out last year!
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (2017)
They Both Die at the End was the bestselling YA book of 2021. Silvera writes about queer Puerto Rican boys, and his New York always has a speculative twist. In this world, everyone knows when they are going to die via Death-Cast, a service that calls you and delivers the bad news. On September 5th, two boys receive this call and spend an incredible day together. It puts “friend at the end of the world” into a different level. You spend the entire time thinking that maybe the title is wrong, and it’s not a spoiler to say that it’s not. But, Silvera does such an amazing job at playing with your heart. I openly wept on a flight during the entire third act. Join me, and the world, if feeding Adam Silvera our tears.
Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera (2019)
I first read Lilliam Rivera in a November 2016 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine and fell in love with her brutally honest and heart-wrenching depictions of the future. This book is no different, full of cultural inside jokes/nods, which delighted me. In the dystopian Dealing in Dreams we follow Nalah, the leader of a girl crew called Las Malcriadas. In this world there are “papichulos” for hire and people sedate themselves with “sueños” to escape reality. When Nalah tries to escape her violent life for the elusive utopian Mega City, she has to cross dangerous landscapes. But will Mega City make anything better? Rivera writes about classism and gentrification with grit and unflinching honesty. Come and enter this world of dreams.
Diamond City by Francesca Flores (2020)
Francesco Flores is a fresh voice in YA SFF. In her debut novel, Aina Solís is an assassin living in Diamond City. It’s a place ruled by tyrants with maze-like cities full of diamond mines. Blood magic like Aina’s is illegal, but she’ll do whatever it takes to protect it. When she’s assigned a new mission, Aina discovers that she’s the one who’s become a target. The idea of “legal” and “illegal” has been stitched to the Latin identity since the borders of this country were drawn and redrawn. With Diamond City, Flores offers a different way of looking at a conversation through a secondary world, and it’s easy to root for Aina to try to have it all as she navigates the dangerous streets of Diamond City. This duology is also complete so there is no waiting!
The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante (2019)
This book asks you to imagine: what if you could put your grief into someone else’s body? Alexandra Villasante explores this idea as Marisol, who is detained while crossing the border from El Salvador to the United States and is denied asylum. A new opportunity is presented. All she has to do is undergo a risky and experimental study to take on a stranger’s grief. If she does, she can remain in the country and keep her sister safe. It’s a deep conversation about love, pain, and what happens to bodies that are deemed illegal. How are bodies treated once they are used for someone else’s gain? And how does that change when someone is so desperate they’re willing to put themselves under an excruciating procedure just to be safe? Villasante’s prose is engaging and haunting. I was thinking about this one for days.
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson (2018)
Mila Flores is a Wiccan with the honest-to-goddess power of resurrection. She only happens to discover this after an alleged suicide pact involving her best friend and two popular girls Mila’s certain she never would’ve spoken to causes her to dust off her lip gloss along with an ancient grimoire. When the trio rise from the dead, they have a case of memory loss and can’t point fingers at their actual killer. Mila has seven days to get some answers before her undead girl gang returns to the grave, and the killer on the loose strikes again. I had a visceral reaction when reading the ending. Everyone needs this teen witch novel in their lives. This is perfect for the Buffy and Charmed fans like myself, and if I might be so bold, my Brooklyn Brujas series.
Nocturna by Maya Motayne (2019)
Maya Motayne might just be the first Afro-Latina who’s published a high fantasy from a major publisher. In the first of a trilogy, Finn is a girl who can change faces but hasn’t seen her own reflection in so long. Prince Alfie is the next in line for the throne of Castallan after his brother went missing. Here, the face-changing girl and the prince team up to steal a treasure that could help them both, but end up releasing an unstoppable force instead. Motayne was inspired by her Dominican roots, and reimagines this fantasy world with all the components that make up a fantasy version of the island. While book three’s details are still under wraps, I know Finn and Alfie have their work cut out for them.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (2020)
Did you ever watch the 1999 movie Casper and think, “I too would like to kiss a ghost.” In Thomas’s debut, Yadriel seeks help from the beyond in order to find his cousin that has gone missing, and in the process, prove that he is a brujo. He summons the spirit of his school’s bad boy, Julian, purely by accident. Now, Yadriel has to help Julian uncover the truth about his death in order to get the ghost’s help. Only the longer they spend together, the harder it is to let go. Perfect for those hungry for a queer supernatural romp.
All These Monsters by Amy Tintera (2020)
New York Times best selling author Amy Tintera’s sci-fi duology hits close to home. Earth has been ravaged by violent creatures nicknamed “Scrabs.” In order to escape an abusive home, Clara joins a call for an independent monster-fighting squad training to fight back against, well, all those monsters. Tintera balances the fight for survival in two ways: there’s Clara volunteering to save her planet, but it’s also her ability to escape an abusive home life. I love this take on a fierce girl who will do anything to survive. But as Clara gets way in over her head she’s forced to learn that sometimes people are just as terrifying, or even scarier than the creatures deemed as monsters.
Lobizona by Romina Garber (2020)
Romina Garber’s Lobizona duology puts an Argentine spin on the werewolf myth. Manu is a girl on the run from her crime family. Not only is she living undocumented, she’s also a Lobizona, a magical creature who should not exist. Manu has to trace her lineage cursed city in Argentina. This duology packs has serious magical vibes, all while discussing serious subjects like undocumented immigration. Like Villasante, Garber’s novel asks us to ponder the idea behind any being deemed “illegal.” Only, Lobizona places this question under a supernatural mystery which felt fresh for me.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno Garcia (2019)
A god sends Casiopea Tun on a journey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bustling streets of Mexico City, and even to the Mayan underworld. Moreno Garcia’s fantasy is grounded, yet lush, giving us a side of Mexico City we don’t always get to see in movies and TV. There’s a dash of Cinderella in the way Casiopea is treated by her family. Only instead of a ball and a prince, she gets a hot Mayan god leading her on an epic adventure. This book felt like the best kind of fairytale–dark, enchanting, and with just the right of danger lurking about.
Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes (2019)
Chilling Effect follows Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra. When Eva’s sister is kidnapped by a mysterious syndicate, Eva will do everything possible to pay the ransom. Valerie Valdes wrote a perfectly quirky space opera that got me out of a reading slump and reminded me a touch of the humor in movies like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Firefly. Eva is snarky, and entirely relatable in the way she will do anything to save her sister. I would follow her anywhere!
Goddess of Filth by V. Castro (2021)
The seance is all fun and games until your nice quiet friend gets possessed and a priest becomes obsessed with you. My The Craft obsessed brain was instantly attracted to this premise, and bite size book. Lourdes, Fernanda, Ana, Perla and Pauline try to summon spirits to attract their desires and dreams. That’s all anyone wants, isn’t it? Instead, they bring forth something ancient, “the eater of sin and the unclean.” For a very short book, Castro managed to create a creepy atmosphere and made me afraid of the dark. Be sure to read up on V. Castro for paranormal horror and dark stories.
Border Lore: Folktales and Legends of South Texas by David Bowles, illustrated by José Meléndez (2015)
Award-winning translator, profession, and author David Bowles retells twenty-five dark stories of the southern borderlands of Texas. These stunning Mexican-American folktales and urban legends are brought to life by artist José Meléndez. What I love about books like this is that you see how some myths travel from location to locations. I can see seeds of some stories in the tales I grew up on, like La Llorona. Even though I’m from Ecuador, stories of el Cucu (Cuco in my region), ghosts, devils, witches, etc, are manifestations of fears that develop into stories and warnings. As specific as this collection is to South Texas, it felt incredibly familiar and like I was listening to my uncles tell scary stories in the backyard.
Secret Identity by Alex Segura (2022)
While technically a noir murder mystery, Alex Segura is no stranger to speculative fiction. He’s gone to a galaxy far, far away and written about Poe Dameron for Lucasfilm, and is an expert on comic book superheroes. His next mystery is slated for March 15th, 2022, and is immersed in the comic book industry circa 1975. Secrets, murder, and taut action. I can’t wait.
The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias (2022)
Publishing later this year, The Devil Takes You Home defies genre, blending supernatural, suspense, and noir about a father desperate to save his family, even if it comes at the cost of his own soul. I’ve heard a ton of buzz around this one and it’s on my (never-ending) TBR.
Latinx Rising: An Anthology of Latinx Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Matthew David Goodwin, introduction by Frederick Luis Aldama (2020)
Edited by Matthew David Goodwin, this collection features ghost stories, space aliens, robots, a grandmother who saves the universe through her cooking. Authors include Kathleen Alcalá, Carmen Maria Machado, Ernest Hogan, and more. What I love about anthologies like this is that there’s something for everyone and I got to discover a ton of new voices.
El Tercer Mundo Después del Sol edited by Rodrigo Bastidas Pérez (2021)
For those who read in Spanish, this anthology of fourteen short stories span the Latin American continents with authors from Ecuador, Chile, Mexico, and more. Its message is that Latin America is not the third world–it is so much more and these science fiction and fantasy stories are proof of that. The stories bite size pieces that deal with magic, migration, addiction, nature, and beyond. Extraordinary.
Finally, this might be controversial, but on my reading list is Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, which explores fantasy from an indigenous point of view, especially since the book’s inspiration covers all of the pre-Columbian americas. Also, coming later this year is The Sun and the Void by newcomer Gabriela Romero Lacruz from Orbit.
I think you’re going to need more bookshelves.
Zoraida Córdova is the award-winning author of the Brooklyn Brujas series, The Vicious Deep trilogy, and Star Wars: A Crash of Fate. Her short fiction has appeared in the New York Times bestselling anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, and Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft. Zoraida was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. When she isn’t working on her next novel, she’s planning a new adventure.